Career Development Director Works to Increase National Presence for Speed School

June 2, 2022

By Holly Hinson
headshot of Mary Andrade

Mary Andrade, Director of Career Development and Cooperative Education

Mary Andrade is pushing the envelope. She wants to see Speed School of Engineering get the recognition and status it deserves on the national stage. The Director of Career Development and Cooperative Education, Andrade oversees the 96-year-old mandatory co-op program that places students in more than 1,000 rotations each year in over 300 companies.

With universities facing challenging recruitment times and ranking systems that require name recognition, national prominence has become an emphasis for her office. Speed School has one of the few mandatory co-op programs in the country, and even rarer, one of the few located at an R-1 (Research 1 designated) university, and perhaps the only university where this can be accomplished within four years.

“We do cooperative education very well but we don’t tell our story very often,” Andrade said. “We’re not one of the big name universities that everybody turns to initially, so the idea is how can we gain national prominence for our cooperative education program?”

Presenting at conferences and becoming more involved on a national level is one answer, said Andrade, who has been with Speed School for 11 years. She is past Chair of the Cooperative and Experiential Education Division (CEED) for the American Society for Engineering Education and has presented at several conferences including CEIA (Cooperative Education & Internship Association, the ASEE national conference and the ASEE hosted Conference for Industry and Education Collaboration (CIEC).

The ASEE CEED division focuses on cooperative education and experiential education within engineering, and shares best practices amongst employers, career services, engineering and co-op. “We ask questions, ‘What does that look like? How do we benchmark ourselves against other universities?” said Andrade.

Andrade has been on the CEED board for the last five years, and involved in the Conference for Industry and Education Collaboration (CIEC).  The conference focuses on employer engagement and how that impacts engineering education. “Looking to those relationships, you create high impact experiences for students, and to meet the changing demand of our industry partners,” she said.

The co-op office has increased its focus on experiential education over the last several years to include additional opportunities for students. “At Speed School, this means internships, Capstone experiences and project-based learning – things that continue to have high impact,” said Andrade. “We are being pushed to innovate within the co-op program to meet the changing demands of our employers and our students,” she said. “We’ve expanded our opportunities significantly in the last few years with the development of the global track, the internship track, and the research track,” she said.

“The Capstone program is also something that is very focused on hands-on learning and creating those industry feedback loops to be able to meet the needs of both industry and our students,” said Andrade.

Building upon that, the co-op office is continually seeking new opportunities to meet needs as well as create collaborations that stretch the capacity of the co-op program, such as integrating Speed Skills Academy.

The program is an upskilling of students to meet industry demands in emerging technologies, and to increase students’ awareness of free training resources and the importance of becoming life-long learners. Ten hours of additional training are required to augment the seminar experience – six hours of technical skill building, and another four of personal or professional development such as leadership, emotional intelligence or project management.

“This aligns with the Center for Digital Transformation that is on campus that offers additional trainings to help our students stay up to par in terms of employers and what skills that industry is looking for,” said Andrade.  “Ultimately, our goal is for students to have a Co-op experience that helps them be competitive in whatever direction they want to go, as well as enable them to have robust experiences in areas that they care about, like global engineering.”

With so many initiatives, just keeping up can be a challenge for Andrade and her team. Working on a strategy to increase industry engagement is another area of focus. “We’re an urban university surrounded by great job opportunities, so it’s important to keep that industry feedback loop going so we are creating a product that is highly sought after – fully-prepared engineers.”

Andrade said she believes the mission of her work is “to create high quality experiences for students that prepare them for the world of work in directions that align with their interests. “On a national level, I’m very proud of the work that I have done with the Cooperative and Experiential Education Division.”

Closer to home, Andrade said she is pleased to see how many Speed School students land where they want to be, have gained their experience, and are competitive in the market.

“The most personally impactful experiences for me, though, have been talking with students who struggle to feel like they deserve what they have achieved,” said Andrade. “I’m able to just challenge them that they have earned this, and they deserve this, and to sit with them as they realize what they have achieved.”